Sunday, August 30, 2009
One of the most astute observers of the health care reform debate must be Doug Henwood, author, journalist and radio producer.
On his July 16, 2009 program radio program for WBAI-FM, New York, his guest, Len Rodberg of Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP), outlined the problems with current versions of ObamaCare. And Henwood followed up with a précis of the situation in his invaluable Left Business Observer (LBO) #120, August 2009.
It seems that the White House has effectively given up on an effective public option that would compete with private insurers. Instead we have an agreement between Obama and the insurance industry whereby they make certain changes to their restrictive practices in return for which they get to collect the premiums of dozens of millions of U.S. citizens and residents not currently insured. One can only guess at the rate at which the insurance companies will benefit over and above their current profits. For every dollar that they will expend under the new guidelines, can we not expect that they’ll take in an extra $10? $100? $1,000? or more? Thus we won't be surprised to find that the salaries of top executives of the ever more consolidated private insurance industry will be enlarged over and above their current payoffs –- in some cases $10 or $20 or $30 million or more annually-- into really healthy amounts.
There’s more. For example, current proposals are that the U.S. will subsidize some portion of the premiums under the mandatory rules that everyone must carry insurance. Who’s going to pay these billions? We’ve just answered the question. The U.S. taxpayer. But in order to squeeze the billions this will cost into an acceptable package for Congress, current proposals are that huge amounts will be – is “stolen” too harsh a word?-- from Medicare (and Medicaid?) disbursements. One number I’ve seen is half a trillion ($), so that seniors are correct to be scared –really scared --that their services will be reduced if not crippled.
In addition, according to Dr. Jerry Avorn of the Harvard Medical School (Author, "Powerful Medicines"), as reported on NPR’s All Things Considered (July 23, 2009; “Drug Firms Pour $40 million into Health Care Debate” http://www.npr.org/templates/transcript/transcript.php?storyId=106899074
government negotiated drug prices is already off the table. While this immense concession has apparently not yet publicly been set in stone, such a consideration is not inconsistent with the way the Rahm Emanuel-Obama administration has tilted toward the previous administration’s policies on so many foreign and domestic issues.
One of the reasons I was so opposed to Hillary Clinton and supported Obama was because I was convinced that she and her husband intended to sabotage health care reform from the inception of their presidency in 1992. I suspected that they were opposed to reform because of some combination of their right wing ideology (the undeserving poor are truly undeserving) and their loyalty to some of their biggest financial supporters.
In 2008 I figured that our only hope for change was an Obama presidency. But the bad news is that for his own complex of reasons – perhaps slightly different from the Clintons but surely overlapping when it comes to seeking the favor of the movers and shakers -– we are faced with the prospect of legislation just as bad or worse than the Clintons managed to devise.
Ironically, I’m now wondering whether a 2009 Hillary Clinton victory might have produced a bill with elements of real reform simply because her former opposition (disguised as mistakes) was well known and for credibility’s sake she would have been forced into effective change. But such speculation runs into the reality of Hillary Clinton as a lightening rod and a divider.
Health Care and Consumer Spending
LBO # 120 follows up with a brilliant analysis of the astonishing degree to which consumer spending has been bolstered by health care costs. It turns out that consumer non- health spending has remained pretty steady over the years including the last two decades while close to 80% of the increase (is this possible?) has been due to health care spending. In other words, U.S. citizens (and residents) weren’t by and large on a buying binge: we were going into debt to pay for health care.
This turns out to be such a new finding that Henwood actually apologizes for not understanding this trend earlier.
FDR vs. BHO
Speaking of the LBO, Henwood’s #119 (July 2009) is worth the price for his insightful contrast between FDR and BHO. Henwood notes that Obama’s not the man to make a speech anything like FDR’s October 1936 announcement of a second New Deal. Henwood cites FDR’s famous lines:
They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.
Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me—and I welcome their hatred.
And Henwood’s analysis continues with the suggestion that the difference between the two men is that FDR was a product of the aristocracy with all the self confidence of someone from that class, while Obama’s emergence from the meritocracy leaves him with little but admiration for the “establishment that groomed him.”
Go to http://www.leftbusinessobserver.com/LBO_subinfo.html for information regarding subscriptions to LBO (the print edition is $22; digital $20)
Monday, August 17, 2009
One can get cheered up after reading an example of such change, but all too soon one is brought back to reality to realize that the siege of Gaza and the starvation of the Gazans is ongoing. The slow genocide and the removal of the Palestinians from their land is occurring with the full knowledge of Sec Clinton and President Obama who either don't care or prefer not to risk political capital trying unsuccessfully to "interfere" with Israeli policy.
I was with the neocons– (Then I went to the Middle East)
by Greg Eow
August 13, 2009
Dear Professor Makdisi,
I don’t know if you rem ember me, but I finished my PhD in the Rice history department in 2007. I was one of Thomas Haskell’s students. We ran into each other a handful of times, including once when I helped you with some of the microfilm machines in Fondren Library. Anyway, this is a strange e-mail, both to write and most likely to receive. But I wanted to tell you about some recent experiences which have profoundly changed my view of the Israeli-Palestinian issue. You have demonstrated an interest in changing how people think about the issue, and so I thought you might be interested in what for me has turned out to be a transformative event.
First of all, a quick word about presuppositions. I confess that I previously never paid a great deal of attention to the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Insofar as I did follow the issue, my sympathies were with neoconservatives. Samuel Huntington and Bernard Lewis were my guides. They were realists, I would tell myself, whereas those who quarreled with them, for instance colleagues at Rice who were more interested in postcolonial studies than I, had political axes to grind. Not for me the romance of resistance. I was a good skeptic, an empiricist; and if there was a problem in Israel it was clear to me it had to do wi th Muslim fundamentalism, terrorism, and the clash between Enlightenment values and democracy on the one hand and premodern tribalism and totalitarianism on the other.
Flash forward a couple of years.
I’m through with grad school, I finally have some time and money, and I embark on a self-directed course of study on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I have my feelings, sure, but I realize that I don’t know a whole lot, that a lot of smart people disagree with me, and now I want to make a good faith effort to learn about the issue and test my prejudices against the scholarship in the field. I read Rashid Khalidi, Edward Said, Benny Morris, Patrick Seale, David Fromkin, Juan Cole, Efraim Karsh, Tom Segev, William Cleveland, Bernard Rougier, Albert Hourani. I read your book and article on anti-Americanism. And I spend two weeks traveling through Syria, Lebanon, Jerusalem and the West Bank. In sum, I read about forty books from a number of different standpoints and travel through the region to see what is going on with my own eyes.
The result? Well, the whole experience essentially knocked me on my butt. I was wrong about a great many things. And not just wrong but deeply wrong. Wrong to a degree that to realize it has left me shaken, wondering how exactly I got to be so intellectually, and in this case morally, obtuse. Just a taste of the data that undid my worldview:
1) The Arab people I met in Syria, Lebanon and the West Bank (and Jerusalem), the vast majority of them Muslims, were almost uniformly lovely, warm, and welcoming. I wasn’t expecting20passersby in the street in all of these places to invite me into their homes for tea to discuss how much they "hate George Bush, but like Americans." (This happened too often to count.) Pretty much everyone thought U.S. policy was a disaster. But they were angry about policy and lovely to me in ways that make the "they hate us for our freedom" line not only inaccurate but criminal. Among the people I met: a 20 year old Shiite Muslim named Mohammed whom I met in the Bequaa Valley. Mohammed supports Hezbollah because of their 1) resistance to Israeli incursions into Lebanon (he didn’t say anything about Hezbollah provocations), 2) their welfare programs, and 3) their support of the20Palestinian cause (all his words). He’s been to Mosque no more than twice in his life, eats pork, and likes nothing more than going dancing in Beirut. That is to say, he is entirely secular. With Bernard Lewis and Samuel Huntington as my guides, I have no way to make sense of such an encounter.
2) Driving through the West Bank at night allows one to see the proliferation of illegal Israeli settlements with immediate and striking force. They are everywhere, some small, some huge, in the high ground lit up like prisons. I thought the reason why the two-state solution had failed was Palestinian intransigence. A look at the settlements – even a quick look – demolishes such a simple explanation. Traveling through the West Bank at=2 0night, and later visiting and talking with people in Ramallah, reinforced an essential point: Israel, at least powerful forces within Israel, is actively pursuing policies to colonize and annex the West Bank while simultaneously making life so difficult for Palestinians that they will pick up and leave. The evidence was there for anyone with eyes to see, irrefutable and horrible in its obviousness. How I got duped by the "Israel wants peace behind the 1 967 borders but extremists deny it to them" line is a question I will be asking myself again and again with embarrassment and not a little shame.
I could go on, but this (unsolicited) e-mail has gone on long enough and you get the point. What I’m saying is this: keep writing, keep telling U.S. citizens to better inform themselves about what is going on in their name and with their tax dollars. If they’re honest, and they go see for themselves what’s going on, I can guarantee that the reasonableness of what you and others have written on the matter will soon become apparent.